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Scientists’ new finding is super nuts

Peanut butter may soon once again be stocked in preschool pantries. An international research team, including scientists from the University of Western Australia (UWA), have discovered the peanut genes that cause allergic reactions.

By decoding peanuts’ DNA, the group, including researchers from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), was also able to identify genes that could be altered to enhance crop efficiency and nutritional value.

Peanuts are grown in more than 100 countries. They are not only an important source of food, they are also an economic force. But global peanut allergy rates have increased in recent years. In Australia, about 3 per cent of the population is affected. Yet peanut allergies are preventable; recently revised ACT Health guidelines recommend babies be fed allergens, such as peanuts and eggs, before the age of 1, to prevent allergies from arising.

But some of the population is still allergic, thus the value of the study. Key researcher professor Rajeev Varshney, research program director at ICRISAT and Winthrop research professor at UWA’s Institute of Agriculture and School of Plant Biology, declared “this discovery brings us that one step closer to creating peanuts that will have significant benefits globally”.

Varshney said the team now has to modify the allergen genes identified in the study, the findings of which have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. By examining the newly created peanut varieties, the results of this further study can be verified. That will be something to go nuts over.

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